It’s early October as I write this, and the equinox is now behind us. Only a few weeks ago we had 90 degree days when we kept the windows closed during the hot part of the day to conserve the cool nighttime air. In Vermont, we didn’t used to think about air conditioning. Now we do, on rare occasions. But it seems that the hot spell of September was the last gasp of summer. There won’t be any more temperatures in the 90s. The feeling of summer has passed.
It’s still warm in the daytime, but never oppressively hot. The sun at midday is no longer straight above. Now it’s over to the side. It’s moved southward, closer to the southern horizon, creating oblique angles that are more flattering to the landscape than at the peak of summer. The sun has now moved from its peak in late June half way back to the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. It’s a reminder. Time is fleeting. Whatever you’ve been putting off, it’s time to get on with it. It’s a great time to take a trip.
In Vermont, in the northern latitudes, the changes from the peak of summer to the depth of winter are extreme. The sun has a long way to travel across the sky throughout the year, so it moves fast. The change from summer to fall seems to come suddenly. Now autumn is upon us.
Last Sunday afternoon I sat in my folding beach chair on a sandbar by the river that we call our beach. It was still too warm to sit in direct sunlight, so I found a shady place. Then suddenly at one point, in an instant, a ray of light appeared on the page I was writing on. The sun had moved to a point where I was now at the edge of the shadow I had been sitting in. In a few more minutes I would be sitting in direct sunlight.
The rotation of the earth is usually too slow to observe directly. We can only compare where it is now to where it was an hour ago, and see that it has moved. But in that moment, I saw the motion. As I was writing in my notebook, suddenly it was if someone had turned a flashlight onto the page.
The change of seasons from summer to fall is similarly gradual. As with the movement of the earth itself, the process is constantly happening. But it’s so slow that we can only observe it by comparing one moment to a previous one. Then at some point you must face the fact that summer is over. By this point in early autumn I can see a difference in the leaves between morning and evening of the same day. The yellow tint in that patch of leaves that changes early is just a little more pronounced than it was in the morning.
The leaves that adorn the Green Mountains are still mostly green, but the change that first appeared a couple of weeks ago is gaining momentum. There are patches here and there of leaves that have changed. In some places the change has already progressed considerably.
At first, it seemed that autumn was delayed, as if it was not coming this time, and this would be the first time in history when the leaves would not change and summer would just keep on going. Then a leaf drops into your lap, reminding you of the relentless passage of time, and the inevitability of the change of seasons. A gust of wind comes and throws down a flurry of them, and it becomes undeniable. You look upon the ground and see that the leaves are starting to gather on the ground. Summer is over. Fall has arrived. As Stevie Wonder sang in his song “As,” “The seasons know exactly when to change.”
Though the mountainsides are still mostly green, any day the change will kick off and spread rapidly across the landscape like an electrical surge, transforming the mountainsides to blazing orange, yellow and red. I watch for it with eager anticipation, not wanting to miss a moment.
The ending of summer brings a twinge of sadness because that season we waited for and longed for all winter is now waning. And that means the year is more than half over, another year of life speeding by, cast into the rearview mirror. It’s time to do it, “time waits for no man.”
In my case it’s time to take a trip. It’s been too long. I’ve been sitting in one place too long. After a period of sitting around I always remember why I love to travel so much and have always kept on the move. After I’ve stayed in one place for a while I get restless. As with the changing of the leaves, the signs of my own change are subtle at first. I find myself becoming a little more impatient, more irritable. My outlook darkens. I start to ask questions about my existence. What am I doing here?
I never have those questions when I am traveling. When I am moving through the world, I always know exactly what I am living for. I am absorbing so much beauty and fascination that I have no doubts that there is nothing better that I could be doing with my time. On a trip, not a moment is wasted. Each one is flooded with newness. Traveling has always felt like that to me. When I am traveling, the purpose of life is clear. There’s just no better way to spend my precious time than to travel.
And now that summer is over, it’s a great time to go. The crowds have thinned out in the airports and at the tourist destinations. The temperatures have moderated. It will still be nice and warm in general, but there won’t be any more of the sweltering days of summer. In Vermont, we are already seeing some sweater nights. And that trend will accelerate.
In much of the temperate zone, whether North America, Europe or Asia, there will be the spectacular change of leaves, which is so thrilling, and all the more so because it is so short-lived. You only have a few weeks to see the whole change; it is such a fiery display. Fall is a great time to see those landscapes.
It’s harvest time, when the labors of the growing season have come to a conclusion and it’s time to reap the rewards. That means there will be many festivals to celebrate. It may be my favorite season for travel, certainly for many destinations. Without quibbling over which season is best for travel, the best thing about autumn as a travel season is that it is now. So, what are we waiting for? What better time to take a trip? Let’s go!
Your humble reporter,